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PoliticsNation, Wednesday, December 17th, 2014

Read the transcript from the Wednesday show

Date: December 17, 2014

Guest: Nicholas Burns; Karen Bass; Julia Sweig; Jonathan Capehart, Toure,
Faith Jenkins, Victoria Defrancesco-Soto, Joe Madison, Zerlina Maxwell

REVEREND AL SHARPTON, MSNBC ANCHOR: Good evening, Ed. And thanks to you
for tuning in.

We start tonight with breaking news on President Obama`s historic move to
reset relations with Cuba. Fifty years after the severing of diplomatic
ties, it is a monumental achievement. And overall of decades` cold war
policy designed to damage the regime of Fidel Castro. Today President
Obama said, it is time for a new era.


America is changing its relationship with the people of Cuba. In the most
significant changes in our policy in more than 50 years. We will end an
outdated approach that for decades has filed advance our interests. And
instead, we will begin to normalize relations between our two countries.
Through these changes, we intend to create more opportunities for the
American and Cuban people and begin a new chapter among the nations of the


SHARPTON: The new policy includes establishing a U.S. embassy in Havana,
discussions on restoring full diplomatic relations, expanding commercial
sales and exports, and easing travel restrictions.

The announcement came just hours after the arrival on U.S. soil of American
Alan Gross, a contractor who had been held in a Cuban prison for five
years. And today, Alan Gross thanked the president for working to set him


Hanukkah. And I guess so far the best Hanukkah that I`ll be celebrating
for a long time. What a blessing it is to be a citizen of this country.

Ultimately the decision to arrange for and secure my release was made in
the oval office. To President Obama and NSA staff, thank you. I`ll close
with a quote from one of Nelson Demill`s characters. It`s good to be home.


SHARPTON: Also today, three Cubans convicted in 2001 on charges including
conspiracy were released from U.S. custody. In exchange for what
administration officials are calling an intelligence asset.

Today`s agreement took 18 months to hammer out, pushed along in part by
Pope Francis. This afternoon the White House released this photo, showing
President Obama talking on the phone yesterday with Cuban president Raul
Castro. It was the first direct communication between a U.S. and Cuban
leader since 1961. Today, President Obama addressed critics of the


OBAMA: To those who oppose the steps I`m announcing today, let me say that
I respect your passion and share your commitment to liberty and democracy.
The question is, how we uphold that commitment. I do not believe we can
keep doing the same thing for over five decades and expect a different

Today America chooses to cut loose the shackles of the past. So it is to
reach for a better future, for the Cuban people, for the American people,
for our entire hemisphere, and for the world.


SHARPTON: Today closes the book on our half century of U.S. policy on Cuba
and turns a new page.

Joining me now, California congresswoman Karen Bass, a member of the
foreign affairs committee, and Nicholas Burns, former U.N. ambassador to
NATO, now a professor at Harvard University.

Thank you both for being here.



SHARPTON: Ambassador Burns, let me go to you first. How significant was
the president`s action today?

BURNS: Well, I agree with you, Reverend Sharpton, historic decision today.
We have not had a normal relationship with Cuba for half a century. I
think the president was very smart and sensible to do what he did. We
tried estrangement and isolation. We thought by isolating Cuba we could
bring down communist regime. It did not work.

And now to try diplomacy, to have a fully fledged American ambassador in
Havana, to be inside the country, we`ll be smart better what`s happening
there. And our ambassador in Havana in the future will have a platform to
argue for American beliefs, that the Castro regime has a poor human rights
record. That it is opposed to freedom for the Cuban people and we ought to
be pushing that view from inside Cuba, not from outside.

So I applaud the president. It is a courageous move. You have seen the
pushback from a number of his critics, especially in the Republican party.
I think the president can handle that criticism. But a very courageous
decision by President Obama.

SHARPTON: Congresswoman, you recently traveled to Havana as part of a
delegation. How important are the president`s actions?

BASS: Well, let me just give you a very specific example. You`re right.
Representatives Barbara Lee and Diane DeGette led a delegation. I just
came back yesterday. And we were there because in Cuba they have
discovered a medication that reduces by 70 percent the need to have
amputations in diabetic patients. And you know how bad diabetes is in the
United States.

So because of the embargo, we`ve not been able to have that medication
available in the United States. Now, given what the president did today,
it is my hope that we can immediately have clinical trials. And if this
medicine proves to be as valuable in the United States as it is in Cuba,
then we can reduce amputations in the United States.

That`s just one example of how both of our peoples are hurt by this policy.
So I`m very glad to see a change after 50 long years.

SHARPTON: Ambassador, let me go to the diplomatic side of this. Eighteen
months of secret negotiations, Pope Francis involved. This seems like a
very serious and in depth type of negotiations that was really kept out of
the public eye.

BURNS: Which is quite extraordinary these days, to be able to have that
degree of secrecy. I applaud the president for doing this. the Canadian
government, according to the press, was an important intermediary, was
holding Pope Francis as well. So obviously, this was a very intricate set
of discussions. Lots of moving parts.

But I think, Reverend Sharpton, the most important aspect is that it maybe
took a younger president. Someone who was not involved in international
politics at the height of the cold war, to see that cold war policy of
isolating Cuba had not succeeded. And then to have the courage to change

And you know, Cuba is just regiment with cold war memories, from the bay of
pigs fiasco of 1961 to the Cuban missile crisis of 1962. Maybe the zenith
of the cold war was fought over Cuba. So we`re a long time passed that.
And I think this does give the United States an opportunity to reassert our
leadership in the western hemisphere on a more self-confidence basis.

And frankly, we should not relent in our criticism of the Castro regime
because it is a major human rights violator. And it is a country that does
not live up to the standards that our country wants to see in the world.
And I think the president will have a very strong platform to make that
case now.

SHARPTON: Congresswoman, this policy has really done nothing. And I agree
with you about the medical opportunities. I remember when I visited Cuba
years ago, that`s what President Castro was stressing. And the president
today said 50 years is enough to judge a policy. We`ve been seeing many of
us for years the policy just doesn`t make sense for American interests.
Listen to how the president addressed it.



OBAMA: Though this policy has been rooted in the best of intentions, no
other nation joins us in imposing these sanctions. And it has had little
effect beyond providing the Cuban government with a rationale for
restrictions on its people.

Today, Cuba is still governed by the Castros and the communist party that
came to power half a century ago. Neither the American nor Cuban people
are well served by a rigid policy that is rooted in events that took place
before most of us were born.


SHARPTON: President Obama said this today. But will engaging,
Congresswoman, will engaging with Cuba actually give the U.S. more power
than trying to isolate?

BASS: Well, I absolutely think that it will. But you know, it is also
freedom for people here too. Because why is that it that Cuba was the only
country on the planet where we had restrictions like this. We should have
had the freedom to go anywhere in the world that we want to.

We should also have the freedom to bring back things from the country. I
mean, for example, you can`t even bring rum back or cigars. I mean, you
know, we have a lot of restrictions that I believe it is time to be lift.
Again, this is the only place in the world.

And Rev., I think that you probably know that right now today, there`s over
100 medical students from the United States, young people who frankly
couldn`t afford the tuition of college in the United States, they`re going
to medical school for free in Cuba. And their only obligation is to come
back here and provide health care in underserved communities.

We met with several of them. We had dinner with them Saturday night. And
so, this is something that the U.S. population needs to understand and know

I do understand, though, my colleagues in Congress, both Democrats and
Republicans, who are Cuban, who have a very personal reason for their
opinions. But I just don`t feel that our foreign policy should be guided
by that. Fifty years is long enough.

SHARPTON: But some that have that opinion, it really is, Ambassador, a
relic of the cold war. And the American public has moved on this. A poll
of normalizing U.S. relations with Cuba shows 56 percent of Americans favor
such a move, 35 percent oppose. It is a policy whose time seems to have
come with Americans moving beyond a relic of the cold war. How do you
explain this, Ambassador?

BURNS: Well, I think most people in our country understand that we`re
almost always better off engaging diplomatically than just by trying to put
some other group of people in a deep freeze and say we won`t talk to them.

We should have enough self-confidence in our powers, in our beliefs, in who
we are. When we sit down with this government in Havana, we`re not
conferring legitimacy on them. We`re not saying we approve of their
authoritarian policies. In fact, we are just saying, we want to engage, as
the Congresswoman has been saying, with the people of that country. We
want Americans to be able to have a normal association with the Cuban

They`re very close to our shores. They`re part of our hemisphere. This
does correct a mistake I think from the cold war. We hung on too long.
And I really applaud President Obama for his farsightedness in taking this
decision today.

SHARPTON: Finally, President Obama is correcting this mistake.

Congresswoman Karen Bass and Ambassador Nicholas Burns, thank you both for
being here.

BURNS: Thank you.

BASS: Thank you.

SHARPTON: Straight ahead, breaking news tonight from Hollywood, Sony
Pictures is pulling a movie after a hacking group vows terror attacks on
theaters. Tonight, we`re learning U.S. officials believe North Korea was
behind the computer hacking attack on Sony Entertainment.

The officials telling NBC News, the hacking attack originated outside North
Korea, but they think they were acting on orders from the North Koreans.
We have much more on this ahead.

Also more on the top story and why someone on the right is out of touch
with America on Cuba.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think this is most wonderful news in my entire life,
to be honest with you. I have traveled all over the world including China,
a very big communist country. We have a great relationship with the
communist country China. Why can`t we have that with Cuba even though they
are communist?



SHARPTON: The Cuba news is all over social media today.

Daniel wrote on our facebook page. Great! It`s the first major step
forward by the U.S. in over 50 years.

Cecile posted great movie by our president and definitely overdue.

Calvin, welcome home, Alan Gross. Great job, Mr. President. Maybe now I
can get a Cuban cigar.

But not everyone is applauding today, especially many on the right. We`ll
talk about that ahead.

But first, please keep the conversation going on our facebook page or tweet
us @politicsnation.


SHARPTON: It`s been a hostile relationship for more than five decades.

The United States and Cuba, led by the Castros and also bedeviled our
politics at home. From the CIA back bay of the pigs invasion in 1961 to
the Cuban missile crisis that brought us to the brink of nuclear war, to
CIA plots to assassinate Fidel Castro, to the 1999 saga over 6-year-old
Elian Gonzalez. Foreign police with Cuba has seemed like an unfixable

But now, a new chapter. The U.S. and Cuba will reestablish relations. So
far the political reaction is mixed, and mostly harshly critical from the

Senator Jeff Flakes said the policy is right.

Senator Bob Corker says he is closely examining the implications of these
major policy changes.

While Speaker Boehner called it another in a long line of mindless
concessions to a dictatorship.

But that was nothing compared to what we heard from Florida Senator Marco


SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R), FLORIDA: This president has proven today that his
foreign policy is more than just naive. It is willfully ignorant of the
way the world truly works. This president is the single worst negotiator
we`ve had in the White House in my lifetime, who has basically given the
Cuban government everything it asks for and received no insurances of any
advances in democracy and freedom in return.


SHARPTON: Senator Rubio`s parents are Cuban immigrants. But he is out of
step with the American people. Fifty-six percent of Americans support
normalizing relations with Cuba. Polls of Cuban Americans show similar
numbers. The president is doing the right thing and the American people

Joining me now are the "Washington Post" Jonathan Capehart and Julia Sweig,
a senior fellow on foreign relations and author of "Cuba, what everyone
needs to know."

Thank you both for being here.


SHARPTON: Julia, is President Obama`s policy change here really just
catching up to the 21st century?

it exactly succinctly. It is catching up to the 21st century and it is
catching up to where the body politic of the United States and in Cuba
already is.

This is the right time to move and it is the right time from the
perspective of Latin America as well where I think our regional standing
will get a big boost. We`ll be able to take a bothersome difficult problem
off the table and start to have a much more productive conversation in the
region, and clearly with Cuba as well.

SHARPTON: Jonathan, it is really hard to overstate the weight and gravity
and history of this policy that has weighed on this country for many a

CAPEHART: Yes. Absolutely. I mean, I think as the president pointed out,
this is a policy that has been in place for longer than a lot of people in
this country have been alive. I think he said in his remarks that he was
about two or three years old when the policy kicked in. And so, it is
about time that after 50 years, the United States change posture.

I mean, again, as the president said, we`ve been at this for 50 years and
still Cuba is communist? We`ve been at this for 50 years and we have
normalized relations with another communist country, China? We`ve
normalized relations with Vietnam, a country we went to war with and we
lost lots of men and women on the battlefield there, and yet we can`t
normalize relations with a country that is 90 miles to sour south where
many people fled and came to the United States there in Florida and
throughout the country who would like to see their families back in Cuba,
would like to travel freely to Cuba. Lots of Americans would like to go to

And so, you know, this is a policy change that should have happened a long
time ago. But for lots of reasons which I think we`ll get into in a
moment, the political pressure was made to bear against members of Congress
and certainly against people sitting in the oval office to not change the
policy or do what President Obama did today.

SHARPTON: Let me address that a minute, Julia.

Bloomberg had a piece today about the strength of the Cuba lobby. The
author writes quote "since the end of the cold war, independent foreign
policy experts have argued that U.S. interests would be served by opening
relations with Cuba. But U.S. policy until now hasn`t really changed and
the reason has been the effectiveness of the anti-Castro Cuba lobby."

Who is the Cuba lobby? And why don`t they want to change?

SWEIG: The Cuba lobby has -- I think that phrase almost doesn`t even work
anymore. Because in the 1980s and the 1990s, there was an organization
that had an office in Washington and they actively lobbied members of
Congress. And there was Cuba pact money which there still is, although,
much less. It was accurate to say there was a lobby.

Now, there is a (INAUDIBLE) or a doorway with four or five members of
Congress in it who represent constituents who do deeply care about this
issue. But it is much more a kind of shadow legacy that President Obama is
exposing, pulling the curtains back on and showing that actually, the Cuban
American community, not the representatives in Congress and not this lobby
has now organic ties with the island of Cuba. It is sending their kids for
summer and spring vacation. It is sending $2 billion of remittances every
year and that money is investing in Cuban small businesses already.

The south Florida economy has benefited from this. And so that lobby, I
think, is really atrophying. And that`s what today`s move and what we`ll
see going forward is going to further expose.

Now, that doesn`t mean that Senator Rubio and Senator Menendez and others
aren`t going to try to stop this process. But because the ties are
organic, or as President McKinley once said, of singular intimacy between
the two countries, that dynamic, I think, that old lobby, that shadow of a
lobby is going to have a hard time stopping, especially because in Cuba
this is going to be so well received by the Cuban people.

SHARPTON: Jonathan, the president, President Obama, has been able to do
this and no president, even Democrats, before him have been able to even
come near trying to normalize relations. How do you view this in the whole
view of other presidents not being able to move at all in trying to advance
this policy toward normalization?

CAPEHART: Well, sir, I mean, on the surface, it is historic, you know. As
you said, no other president has been able to do this. But also, when you
think of the political calculation and how the Republican party in
particular used position on Cuba as congeal against Democrats or anyone who
wanted to normalize relations.

What the president did today was not historic but brave. I think that`s
why a lot of people are looking at what the president did, with sort of a
neck snapping, whoa! He actually did it when we know that presidents who
preceded him have been pushed, requested, asked, please, would you even
consider doing this. And here, we have a president who in league with the
Pope, Pope Francis, was actually able to do this.

And again, we`re looking at a president in the last two years of his second
term, who a lot of people would like to look at as a lame duck. But when
you take this into account, and what he did on the executive action on
immigration, this is a president showing that he is not going to be lame.

And one other point, Rev., you know, the Republican party and lots of folks
on the other side like to say that this president is turning his back on
freedom and democracy for the people of Cuba. And I have to say that, you
know, the oxygen of democracy is freedom, particularly the free flow of

You get Americans going down to Cuba more than just folks visiting on, you
know, tours that are now sanctioned. Those ideas that they will bring with
them to Cuba, and that they will bring from Cuba back to the United States
will only make it easier and more possible for the people of Cuba to
experience the freedom we think they should have.

SHARPTON: Well, another big, big day, a huge day for the not so lame duck
President Obama.

Jonathan Capehart, Julia Sweig, thank you both for your time tonight.

CAPEHART: Thanks, Rev.

SWEIG: Thank you.

SHARPTON: Breaking news out of Hollywood tonight. U.S. officials say
there is a link to North Korea to the Sony hacking. And our panel takes on
President Obama`s historic move on Cuba. Stay with us.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I`m thrilled today. I want to thank President Obama
for (INAUDIBLE) and his government with the efforts that went into this
huge break through with Cuban-American relations.



SHARPTON: Breaking news tonight. U.S. officials believe North Korea as
behind the computer hacking attack on Sony Entertainment. The officials
telling NBC News, the hacking attack originated outside North Korea but
that the individuals behind it were acting on orders from North Koreans.

This news comes after Sony pulled "the Interview" movie today after the
hacking group called Guardians of Peace vowed 9/11-style threats to
theaters running the movie. It has a plot to assassinate North Korean`s
leader Kim Jong-Un.


SHARPTON: Breaking news tonight. U.S. officials believed North Korea was
behind the computer hacking attack on Sony Entertainment. The officials
telling NBC News the hacking attack originated outside North Korea but that
the individuals behind it were acting on orders from North Koreans. This
news comes after Sony pulled "The Interview" movie. Today after the
hacking group called Guardians of Peace vowed 9/11 style threats to
theaters running the movie. It has a plot to assassinate North Korea`s
leader Kim Jong-un.


UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: The CIA would love it if you could take him out.



UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Like for drinks?

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Like to dinner?

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Take him out in town.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN: You want to us kill the leader of North Korea?



SHARPTON: Tonight the breaking news is that U.S. officials believe North
Korea is linked to the hacking attack.

Joining me now, MSNBC`s Toure. And former prosecutor and host of "Judge
Faith," Faith Jenkins. Thank you both for being here.



SHARPTON: Toure, NBC News reports, quote, "We have found linkage to their
North Korean government." This is a major development in the story. Your

TOURE: Well, to see that "The Interview" is now being pulled makes me
think that Kim Jong-un suddenly has veto power of what goes into American
theaters. That when he directs a group to say, we don`t want that film out
and they make a threat, then suddenly it`s going to be pulled. I don`t
like that. I don`t like negotiating with terrorists. I don`t like giving
into terrorists. That said I understand why theater owners would say, hey,
I have 25 screens, I got five screens, whatever it is. I don`t want to put
a picture in there that may test the sanctity of my theater.

SHARPTON: But how significant is it to you that a government may be behind
hacking in a huge American company?

TOURE: Well, I mean, you know, we see that a lot right out of China, right
out of other countries. Hacking, other corporations. Right. I mean,
that`s normal. It is not good business. But it is normal business. But
when you add the terrorism aspect, when they`re saying, we`re going to put
bombs in or what have you in your theater. If you put out a silly false
funny comedy movie, it`s not some documentary that lets us know something
about Kim Jong-un that we didn`t already know. It is a silly comedy.

SHARPTON: But we`ve never seen something like this, Faith. The New York
Times just posted a story saying, quote, "Senior administration officials
who would not speak on the record about the intelligence findings said the
White House was still debating whether to publicly accuse North Korea of
what amounts of cyber terrorism campaign." Faith, is there any
international legal action you can see on this hacking?

JENKINS: I don`t think you`re going to see that in this case. Because why
ratchet up the response of everyone involved. What you`re going to see, I
mean, this is a cyberattack on Sony. Not on the U.S.

TOURE: Right.

JENKINS: And so, what you`re looking at here is, when Sony decided to pull
this movie, I mean, they`re really wasn`t their decision, the movie
theaters made the decision for them. Based on the fact that, why should
they --

SHARPTON: Yes, many theaters started pulling out.

JENKINS: Right. And this is a no-win situation. Why should they subject
themselves to the legal liability? Let`s say that this threat was a
complete bluff. But you have someone who is watching the news that sees
and it they decide, oh, I`m going to go in and I`m going to try to act on
this. And some lawyers are going to show up and say, listen, my client was
harm and you knew about this threat. And you did not take proper

SHARPTON: Yes. But let me go back to you on Sony, Toure. Because Sony
statement which was the news today until we about an hour ago when we got
this with NBC News. And Sony said, part in quote, "We respect and
understand our partners` decision and of course, completely share their
paramount interest in the safety of employees and theater goers." If the
theaters didn`t pull out today, will the show go on?

TOURE: Well, absolutely. I mean, if the theaters didn`t act, if there
wasn`t this threat. It is not the cyber terrorism as much as the actual
terrorism. If you didn`t have that, then absolutely the movie would go on
without a doubt. I mean, to say that Sony pulled out is sort of like what
we were talking about before. Like, you know, when the bride leaves, the
groom at the altar, and the groom says, well, I`m not going to marry her.
She`s already gone, man. The theaters have already said, we`re not going
to show this movie. We don`t want to take that risk. So Sony is pulling
it, you know, maybe later. They say, maybe later they`ll do a theatrical
release when the dust calms down. Maybe they`ll put it out on demand. So,
you know, we`ll see. I mean, you know, America doesn`t need to see this
film. I want to see this film. But it is not some major piece of sort of,
you know, filming work that we must see it. That we`ve been cheated out

SHARPTON: Faith, let me ask you. What legal action can we foresee from

JENKINS: Well, Sony has already in file, they already had two lawsuits
filed against them. Now, what can they do in return? That`s questionable.
But what they`re doing now is defending the suits against them. And the
real question is, what did Sony know and when did they know it in terms of
this possible breach? One of the main arguments is going to be really a
question of foreseeability on behalf of Sony. Was it foreseeable, that if
they produced this movie, they made this movie that hackers would come in
and breach their personal records and data? I think that`s a stretch to
say that that was reasonably foreseeable.

TOURE: It seems that we knew everything Sony knew and when they knew it

JENKINS: No, we don`t.

SHARPTON: But Toure, you sound like you don`t think this is a big deal.
Director Judd Apatow said, Apatow tweet today, quote, "I think it is
disgraceful that these theaters are not showing "The Interview." Will they
pull any movie that gets an anonymous threat now?" Is this a dangerous

TOURE: No, it absolutely is a dangerous precedent. And I already said
that I don`t like Kim Jong-un having a veto over what goes into American
theaters. Perhaps next, ISIS will say, they don`t want American sniper to
go out and people will say, well, we can`t run out, we can`t let people
going in theaters and being afraid. So it is a dangerous precedent. I
don`t like negotiating with terrorists but I understand that theater owners
have to say, when people come into our house, they have to feel
comfortable. Because God forbid something happened in one theater and then
people would say, I don`t feel comfortable going to movie theaters.

SHARPTON: But that`s the problem Faith, isn`t it? That you can understand
corporations being uncomfortable about employees and about theatergoers.

JENKINS: Absolutely. It`s a no-win situation for the movie theaters. Why
would they put themselves at risk? They have other movies that they can
show in the movie theater where this movie would be.

TOURE: Right.

JENKINS: They don`t want people not showing up at the theaters at all
because this one movie is there. But I will say this, Toure. Had it not
been for the pretty sophisticated hacking that took place at Sony, I don`t
think you would be seeing this reaction to this threat. Because of the
sophisticated hacking that took place, I think they had to look at this.

SHARPTON: Well, it is big news that Sony has pulled the movie and is even
bigger news that it is now being attached to a foreign government like
North Korea. Toure and Faith Jenkins, thank you both for your time only
the. And catch Toure on "The Cycle." Weekdays at 3:00 p.m. Eastern here
on MSNBC. Straight ahead, 50 years in the making. What the historic
announcement on Cuba means for the president`s legacy.

Also, sorry. Sorry excuse. Why is Senator Ted Cruz apologizing to
republicans? And the First Lady is spilling the beans on the Obama secret
dance party. It`s all in "Conversation Nation."


SHARPTON: For 50 years, American policy toward Cuba has been tangled by
politics. The President sought to make real change in that today. A new
relationship based on a policy that might actually be good for America and
Cuba. I met with Castro for four hours some years ago. Later, my thoughts
on America and Cuba.


SHARPTON: Time now for "Conversation Nation." Joining us tonight, MSNBC
contributor Victoria Defrancesco-Soto, Sirius XM radio host Joe Madison,
and The Grio Zerlina Maxwell. Thank you all for being here tonight.




SHARPTON: We start with the big news today. President Obama`s historic
Cuba announcement.


PRES. BARACK OBAMA (D), UNITED STATES: Todos somos Americanos. Change is
hard in our own lives and in the lives of nations. But today we are making
these changes because it is the right thing to do. Today America chooses
to cut loose the shackles of the past so as to reach for a better future.
For the Cuban people. For the American people. For our entire hemisphere
and for the world.


SHARPTON: The President saying today, it is the right thing to do. Just
like with health care and immigration. The President is moving ahead.
Joe, what does this say about the President`s focus in his last two years
in office?

MADISON: Well, it also says he listens. He obviously listened to our
allies, a country of Canada, other European countries that had long-
standing relationships with Cuba. He is really quoting what the pope said
because the pope had a lot to do with this. He also understands that for
decades, students, journalists, entertainers, and about nine other
categories of Americans have been going in and out of Cuba, so this leans
for him and the timing is absolutely perfect. It gives him an opportunity
to make a positive change in this hemisphere that is long overdue. This
relationship, or lack of a relationship is nothing but a relic of the cold
war, and he has put an end to it or at least the beginnings of putting an
end to it.

SHARPTON: How will this impact American politics, Victoria?

DEFRANCESCO-SOTO: Well, what we know is that it is not going to hurt
democrats at all. It is only a very small minority within the Republican
Party that has these strong feelings against Cuban relations and against
Fidel. And over the years that number has been decreasing. We see third,
fourth generation Cuban Americans saying, you know what? Fidel is not that
big a deal in our lives. We want to focus more about how we can help
Cubans who are over there right now. So strategically, it does not hurt
the democrats. And even republicans, with the exception of say, you`re
Marco Rubios are the ones who were saying, you know, what? No big deal.
It is good for business. Let`s go forward with it.

SHARPTON: You know, it is a generational Zerlina, I mean, there are Cuban-
Americans who have never been to Cuba.


SHARPTON: Nor have their children.

MAXWELL: Right. I just think that this is a moment in which we have to
take a second and say, this is historic. This is definitely hope and
change. People voted for that in 2008 and 2012 and we`re seeing that the
President is refusing to believe that in the lame duck, he can`t do
anything productive for people. And so yes, it is generational. But I
think 50 years of history tells us that this is like you said, the right
thing to do.

SHARPTON: You know, Joe, the question bears asking. Why couldn`t
democrats before this do this?

MADISON: Do this before? Oh, I think once again, it is political.
There`s no ifs, ands or buts about it. You also have to keep in mind that
you have an older leadership that gets called up in it. Florida plays a
big role. Particularly in presidential elections. That`s where the bulk
of your opposition comes from. But you have new leadership. As a matter
of fact, you have new leadership in Cuba. You have a younger generation in
Cuba. My daughter went to Cuba with a group called semester at sea.
They`ve been going in and out of Cuba for years and they are fascinated by
that country. But I think the reason is strictly politics. The cold war.
The fear of communism. And isn`t it quite absurd that for 50 plus years,
we`ve been talking about, we don`t want to do business with one of the
smallest communist countries on the planet but yet we do business with

SHARPTON: Right. That seems to have been a glaring contradiction Victoria
to a lot of American people.

DEFRANCESCO-SOTO: And did it work, Reverend? So, for 50 years we thought
okay, if we keep the embargo in place, Cuba is ultimately going to fold and
they`re going to embrace democracy and all will be resolved. Well, it
didn`t work. So, after trying something for 50 years, let`s change course.
Because Cuba has already changed course. Let`s change course at home and
see what we can get in terms of bringing forth a more democratic society in

SHARPTON: You know, Zerlina, I`ve been watching this for years. I`ve even
been to Cuba once and I just couldn`t make any sense out of how we could
deal with all kinds of countries who are communist, who were dictatorships,
who had human rights violations that were glaring. Yet we couldn`t deal
with this country 90 miles off the Miami Coast.

MAXWELL: Right. I just think that the justification historically has been
proven completely wrong. And I think that like your other guest had said
so eloquently, it was time for a change. We saw what did not work for 50
years. And this president has, you know, he has run multiple times on the
fact that he is overdoing it the old way. Or, you know, doing legislative
things the old way. He is definitely in the second term in particular.
Taking initiative to do the things that he thinks are the right thing to do
for the American people. Whether it be immigration or this new movie of
Cuba. And I just think that, you know --


MAXWELL: He is proving that he is not going to just be a lame duck. He
has proven that he is not just going to sit there until the next president
comes and he`s going to stay active.

SHARPTON: Everyone, stay with me. Everyone, stay right there. Coming up,
Ted Cruz says sorry, and really, really sorry. Yes, he is. That`s next.


SHARPTON: We`re back with the panel. Victoria, Joe and Zerlina. If love
means never having to say you`re sorry, what does that mean to Ted Cruz?
He is apologizing this his republican colleagues for ruining their
weekends. Cruz late night show voting on the Senate floor, meant the
Senate had to stay in session through the weekend. And it led to dozens of
Obama nominees getting confirmed in the final hours of the democratic-led
Senate. Harry Reid is bragging his Senate confirmed, 132 judges during the
13th Congress. The most in over 30 years. Victoria, will Senator Reid be
sending Ted Cruz a thank you gift for Christmas?

DEFRANCESCO-SOTO: Absolutely. And Ted Cruz here saying, I`m sorry? This
is unheard of. I don`t know about you Reverend but I`m smelling 2016 more
and more. And I think this is just the beginning of us seeing Ted Cruz
moderate his behavior. I`m not saying moderate behavior in general but in
terms of the Tea Party of republican politics, he knows that yes, he needs
the republican primary base. But if he really wants a shot at the White
House, he needs to temper it. At least have a shot at the general


SHARPTON: Now, Zerlina, this is a big victory for the president. A 132
judges confirmed seriously impacts the courts.

MAXWELL: Oh, it absolutely impacts the courts. And it is actually one of
the places in which I think that overall the Obama administration has
struggled, particularly because of the make-up of the Senate. So you see
in federal courts, you know, certain laws that have been passed through the
Congress. Pieces overturn and getting challenged. And this is why
particularly on the left, the importance of the federal bench cannot be
understated. And I think going into the next administration, we need make
the number one priority. So you`re not at the last minute, you know,
having to ram through, not ram through but push through nominations that
are absolutely necessary for the function of the country.

SHARPTON: You know, Joe, Senator Cruz apologized to his colleagues for
keeping them over the weekend. Not for the judges. But it`s going to be
interesting going forward in 2015 whether we`re going to see Ted Cruz
having to apologize a lot more for what he may be doing to the Republican

MADISON: Oh, Ted Cruz blew it big time. And he knows it. And that`s why
he apologized. And let me tell you, the republican had no intention of
getting 132 judges confirmed. They were going to hold out until they were
in total control of the Senate. He blew it. I have dubbed Ted Cruz and a
couple of his other colleagues both in the Senate and the House, they are
what I call now the crazy caucus. They are nuts, man. And everybody knows
it. He is the most disliked man on Capitol Hill at this point in time.
And if he thinks, and where I disagree with one thing that`s been said.
And that is, he is not going to change. This is part of his make-up. And
he is going to use this to appeal and say that the old heads, the
leadership is out of step and that`s what he is going to run on. You watch
that. But he`s not going to change. He`s part of this crazy caucus.
That`s what they are.

SHARPTON: Victoria, it brings me back to how the President and Harry Reid
really played hardball on that nuclear option. Because of the republicans`
misuse of the filibuster. This is how these things passed. You only
needed 50 boats.

DEFRANCESCO-SOTO: Absolutely. I mean, it was beautiful sportsmanship on
the part of the administration in Harry Reid. And, you know, Ted Cruz
really thought he was going to be able to get away with it but he didn`t.
And he got checkmated by the Democratic Party. And that is why he is
apologizing. He messed up. He thought, okay, this is going to be a big
win for me and it wasn`t. And I think that this is really the beginning of
him seeing, you know what? I think I need to get in line and play ball
with the Republican Party a little bit more. Because I don`t want to
ruffle too many feathers. So, I don`t know. I`m really curious to see how
many acts in the next couple of months.

SHARPTON: Well, if he doesn`t play ball, he at least needs to play in the
ball game. Victoria, Joe and Zerlina, thank you for your time tonight.

MADISON: Thank you.

SHARPTON: When we come back, meeting with Fidel Castro. A meeting to
remember. Next.


SHARPTON: Finally tonight, a historic day for the country. Since the
first year, January of the first year of John Kennedy`s presidency, we`ve
had this policy. I thought about it this afternoon as I watched the
President. How in late 2000, I led a small delegation to Cuba. I ended up
with a four-hour lunch with Fidel Castro. Where he talked to me about he
wanted to provide doctors and medical education for African-Americans. We
talked about race in Cuba and how he admitted there was racism there, even
against black Cubans. I sat there thinking, why are we not dealing with
this country? The people in Cuba were not in any way different or hostile
than people around the world. Why would this man lock us into this policy?
That changed today. And it changed forever.

Thanks for watching. I`m Al Sharpton. "HARDBALL" starts right now.


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